As Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump stood behind their podiums at the final US presidential debate, they appeared worlds apart. However, during these last few weeks of the election, both candidates have one key concern in common. Both of the US presidential candidates have measurably bad reputations. The Reputation Institute which monitors reputation scores for brands, individuals and even countries, gives Republican nominee Trump an overall "pulse score" of 31.7. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s is slightly higher at 38.7. Both of these scores sit below 40, a number that indicates a “poor” reputation according to the firm.
RI’s October 1st report found that, “…neither candidate has yet to capture the imagination of the American people based on the positive allure of their personal brands.” To put that in human-speak, both brands lack what it takes to generate brand loyalty with voters. In fact Brand Trump and Brand Clinton generate the opposite feeling in many voters, something akin to a choice between the lesser of two evils.
Saturday Night Live’s Michael Che, in his role as presidential debate moderator Lester Holt, posed the problem brilliantly. “It’s like choosing a phone right now,” the comedian stated. “There are really only two options. We don’t want the iPhone 7 (Clinton) because it feels like it’s being forced on us. Also, it’s not necessarily an improvement. But also we don’t want the Samsung Galaxy (Trump), which could explode at any minute.”
RI has put a lot of effort into measuring our gnawing sense of dissatisfaction with the choices. National Public Radio recently interviewed RI’s managing director, Stephen Hahn-Griffiths about the RI’s data collection and analysis methods, "We're in the field all the time so we're able to understand the trend lines of where public sentiment is going," he says. The RI report judges the candidates on seven key dimensions of reputation and compares the two using survey data and proprietary algorithms. The seven dimensions relate to the organizational goals of the presidency, such as national security and economic growth.
The result of all this data crunching is fascinating. Respondents perceived Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as similar in significant ways. Both Trump and Clinton are viewed as being ambitious, achievement-oriented, elitist, authoritarian, and controlling. Trump, in comparison, is viewed as being more extroverted, daring, aggressive and arrogant, while Clinton is more likely to be viewed as hardworking, reliable, secure and refined. Neither candidate is perceived as being especially friendly, pleasant, concerned, honest, sincere or trustworthy.
RI’s study gives some specific advice to both candidates. “For Clinton it would seem that the lack of emotional connection with her candidacy is holding her back – she needs to better define the Clinton brand.” Clinton, however, is also seen as significantly more presidential based on respondent’s perceptions of her leadership skills. “For Trump it seems that the lack of understanding and belief in his policy platform is a major impediment – he needs to get more specific on his position related to the key policies.”
Hahn-Griffiths adds that the election process has revealed details of Trump’s personality that might affect him beyond Election Day. "A lot of the ... assumptions we might have made around the sort of lustre of Trump's brand and what it represents are certainly being questioned by our studies... “. He has concerns that some of Trump’s brand strengths could be tarnished by the gritty realities of the campaign trail. This seems justified considering Trump’s recent loss of commercial investors and revenue, apparently related to some of Trump’s more controversial comments during the presidential race.
In conclusion, the report offers these valuable words for both the candidates, “It would also seem that infusing more empathy, positivity, and integrity into both Brand Trump and Brand Clinton could go a long way towards building positive traction for either candidate going into the final weeks of the election.” Sensible reputation advice in the silliest of seasons.